Sunday, February 5, 2017

Save Vs Gravity

Yesterday, I fell off the roof.
It hurt.
Holy fuck did it hurt.
I haven’t felt pain like that in years.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when my sister’s family came for a visit. My brother-in-law (and don’t these stories always seem to start with a brother-in-law somewhere) was watching a football game and remarked about how bad the picture was. I don’t watch TV much and when I do I usually watch Hulu or Netflix, but Scott was right. The signal was as scrappy as a youtube video from a decade ago. The commercials in between the game were fine but the feed of the game itself were so pixellated you couldn’t make out the score.

And it was on all the channels.

So I decided to cut the cable and give Comcast the boot. I looked around and ended up buying a Mohu Sky 60 Outdoor HDTV Antenna. It has a beautiful picture and if you can get by with PBS and Network TV I can’t recommend it enough. However, you will have to go up on the roof to install it.

In a way, I should have seen the fall coming. Premonition alarms had been going off all over the place. The day before yesterday I had written the Politics of Pricing blog post which prominently features a guy falling through the air, a screen grab from the New Order video Bizarre Love Triangle which is filled with people in suits flying through the air as if they had just flung themselves off a skyscraper, a video I had playing on a loop in the background while writing the post.

While tacking up the cable I even paused to look over the edge of the roof and wonder how much damage I would take if I were to - I don’t know - suddenly and inexplicably somersault over the edge of it. In the Red EFT this calls for a Save Vs Gravity. You take 1 hp of damage per foot fallen, in this case 10 to 12 feet, which is then ameliorated by a Body check. Fail and you take full damage. A terrible fail does double damage. A critical fail does triple. Succeed and you take less. Damage type is determined by what you land on. In my case, the ladder itself, which I think qualifies as blunt damage.

I even remember scoffing at the Mohu instruction manual with its warnings to never work alone and to always have someone holding the ladder you are working on. I’ve been up and down off the roof countless times.

Silly manual, I know exactly what I’m doing….

What eventually got the better of me was an aging plastic rain gutter the ladder had been propped up against. No problem going up, but on a trip down the plastic cracked. It was just enough to upset the footing of the ladder and send it flying out from under me. I went down, caught the edge of roof with my rib cage, flipped over backwards and plummeted. My butt hit the deck hard enough to crack a plank in it like a karate master.

First came shock. Surprise from the simple notion that I had done something as stupid as fallen off the roof. Quick on its coattails was an immense wave of pain and swearing, enough swearing that in an earlier age I would have landed myself on Santa’s naughty list for at least a decade. Finally, I started to grab around, check all the parts which were hurting (pretty much everything), and then laughed, happy to find nothing broken. Bruised all to fucking hell, ripped to shit (this is Florida, I was wearing shorts), but nothing broken. Thank God.

I wandered inside for some iodine and bandages, then wandered back outside to finish the job. Which is why I am actually writing this post. In role playing games there has been an endless debate over the after effects of damage. Usually, it comes down to one of two methods. The first is the Gygaxian method where you simply ignore it until that last hit point is gone and you die. The other is a more modern method where taking damage causes your character to take performance hits until you curl up and die. Normally I would say that the latter is the more realistic and that the Gygaxian method is just a necessary evil of a table-top game. In retrospect? Neither works.

Granted there was a period in which I was stunned by the damage (something that I don’t ever recall happening in an RPG), but after that wore off I found myself swept up by a surge of adrenaline and endorphins which would last for the rest of the afternoon. Instead of a performance hit, my character should have taken a performance boost. I found myself unable to cool down. After patching myself up, I immediately went back out, put up the ladder in a safer location, and finished the installation. When that was over I was still spinning like top so I took the dog out for a nice long walk, even though the bruises on my legs were turning as purple as plums.

It wasn’t until later in the evening that a certain stiffness would begin to set in. Now, at 7 on a Sunday morning, I am as rigid as a board. Typing is tough and it takes the help of my right hand to bend the fingers of my left hand into the middle finger I would gladly give to Comcast if they could see such things. Now my character would experience a performance hit.

So, to a degree, I have to side with the Gygaxian method. Our bodies instinctively see any damage taken as a threat to its existence and will respond with whatever it takes to make sure we continue to survive.

Of course, it could also be that I didn’t take enough damage. If I had broken a leg in that fall and sat up to find a femur sticking out of my leg, spurting blood like a fountain? Yeah, fuck that. I would have called it a day.

Then there is also the mechanics. How do you quantify all of this without unbalancing the rest of the system? How do you figure out when that moment of excitement ends and the stiffness begins? How much of a penalty should be taken? And is this even worth all the overhead in game time it would take to implement such details at the table? After all, it was just a simple fall, barely a footnote in most adventures.  In the end, I have to side with the Gygaxian method. If not for the reality of it all then for the convenience.

I wonder if Gary ever fell off a roof?

Fuck Comcast.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Politics of Pricing

Recently, I have been watching Dr. Lewis Pulsipher's videos on how to price downloadable digital content. And no I did not throw myself off a bridge right afterwards.

Tempted, but no. . . .

I’m more about books than video games, but this did push me to think about the never-ending headache which is the matter of figuring out what to ask for what you create. Striking the right balance is no easy feat. Too far to the cheap side and people will dismiss it as crap. Too far to the expense and they will laugh in your face. The margin seems to be growing thinner every day. Like a tightrope walk across a razor wire, you have to wonder what will happen when the two sides eventually cross and the price which once was too cheap becomes too expensive.

Enjoy the freefall.


It seems to me that when it comes to prices every product has two of them, a Value Price and a Buying Price.

The value price is a static price. It is the most anyone could be expected to pay for an item. Its real purpose is to give an impression of worth. The prices printed on dust jackets are value prices.

The buying price is a flexible one. It is set by the economic climate and the state of a product’s lifespan. The .99 cent sticker slapped on the dust jacket of a book relegated to the remainders table? That is a buying price and a miserable one at that.

The problem with the internet is that it runs like a vending machine. You post your book for sale, set the price, and only occasionally check in to see how it is doing. In many ways, this set and forget method is a good thing. You can sell stuff without having to be present to make the transaction. You can also be passed over by millions and left clueless as to why, which is what I think instigates the notorious race to the bottom.

My book isn’t selling. It must be that the price is too high. 
I’ll drop it down as low as it can go and make up for the loss with bulk sales.

Bulk sales which never come because your internet price is both a value and a buy price. At $0.99 cents you have relegated it to the trash bin. Unless people know that your book should retail at $14.95 they’re not going to be excited to find it for $0.99 cents.

Maybe this is why coupons and special promotions are so important. They allow you to maintain the appearance of value while enticing people to buy at a reduced price. Which would you rather buy? A book that normally sells for $14.95 but today can be had for $4.95. Or a book that always seems to sell for $0.99?


Publishing has a lot in common with fishing. To be a good fisherman you have to go where you know the fish hang out. You have to offer them something which resembles what they normally eat. You let them nibble the bait a bit before setting the hook. Then you drag your reader into the boat, skin and gut ‘em and fry them up for dinner.


Although this also shows where the parallel stops. A fish you only catch once. A reader you want to catch over and over and over again and have them happy to come back for more.

Personally, I think you should write for yourself and then your friends, and maybe if it makes sense you should sand off one or two rough edges to make your work more palatable to that big effluvial mess known as the market. At least that way you will never disappoint those who matter most. Ultimately though, you do have to go to the market, see what is for sale and decide where you want your book to sit. If you notice that most of the ebooks you love and respect are priced between $8 and $12. That is where you want to be.

But my book isn’t worth $8. It’s not good enough. 
I would pay $2.99 for it, but that’s about it.

Then why are you publishing it? It’s obviously not done yet. Is it a stinky cover? Get a new one. Is it unpolished writing? Do another rewrite. If the whole thing simply sucks then consider it practice. Push it aside. Do not publish it. If you can come back to it later and build it up to something worth publishing then do so. Otherwise, you are doing yourself a favor by leaving it behind.

Modesty is a good thing. It keeps people from coming across like self-aggrandizing jerks. But it can also be creatively stifling. Overly modest people often start to believe the effacing they do to themselves, that their place in the world is beneath greater people. They repeat this belief until they conform to it and ultimately are left with a low level of being with no way out. It is just as much a trap as bragging way above and beyond the obvious.

Modest or immodest? I think the most important thing is remain honest. When it comes to the end point of publication I think writers need to step away from themselves, forget all the work they have done or what they may be asking themselves to continue doing and just look at the work objectively. See it as someone who just came across it on the internet.

Honestly, how much does it seem to be worth?

And what could be done to make it worth more? As in those aspects you can control. Waving a magic wand and turning yourself into Stephen King doesn’t count.


It is also good to realize that there is no silver bullet price, no point where you can price your work and make automatic sales. The sale will come down to how good your work seems when first encountered. Continued success relies on how good it actually is. We may want the internet to change this but it never will. Even with kickstarters which sell promises instead of product, failure to deliver will eventually come back to kick the kickstarter in the butt. It's just a matter of time.

The world is a very unfair place. Established authors will continue to fart on paper and have it sell millions while unrecognized geniuses panhandle the interstate exits. But anyone who looks back at their grand failures to realize that they tried hard and what they created did deserve to succeed. They will at least find contentment, if not continued hope for the future. The author who looks back to find a bunch of half-baked works with ugly covers and reams of scrappy typo-ridden pages, all priced to sell at bottom of the barrel prices?